Monday, May 30, 2005

A likely lack of Republican resonance on the pension

It's a bad thing to not put money into pensions for a few years. The Governor was right to call to shore up the pensions and the benefit trims in the pension deal are significant and deserve credit. It isn't easy to take on pensioners or school districts. So the only tactic left for the GOP is to call the trims superficial and focus on the 2.2 billion not contributed to the pensions. But that doesn't really resonate outside of pensioners and state employees. The far superior result for the GOP would have been an overtime session where those 'irresponsible, mismanaging Democrats can't get the job done again.' That would have portrayed an image of incompetence. Instead, the Dems are looking like they can portray an image of responsibility in a tough budget to the average voter. Maybe if the GOP tacticians agree with that sentiment of a lack of any advantage, they might agree to bond the 2.2 billion to save the state billions more than the 30 (or whatever) billion the implemented reforms will save.

Memorial Day Resolution has far too long a list

The House of Representatives just held a ceremony of sorts in honor of the fallen Illinois servicemen and women. Every person from Illinois who died over the last year in combat related activities was read aloud by the representative from the soldier's home district. The names were arranged by the chronological order of death. The calendar seemed to move slowly as name after name was solemnly entered into the record. It somehow seems more fitting than a barbeque on Memorial Day to memorialize the sons and daughters of Illinois who will never come home.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

There's plenty of red ink on everyone's hands at the Capitol

The Senate just concurred with a House amendment to trim some pension benefits, especially for Downstate pensioners who game the system with the worst abuses. The GOP calls this a textbook raid on pensions while the Dems call it a restructuring of debt. This will be a fascinating framing debate, because whichever frame prevails in the public mind will define fiscal responsibility. The Dems have some fair points, especially yhe arbitrary balloon shape of the 1995 deal, but the GOP has a much simpler message. And Schoenberg, the sponsor, had the best line (in the title) which suggests the frame the Dems will be using of a four decade problem that the current administration is incrementally improving.

Election omnibus passes. And that's a good thing.

Rich Miller has gently reminded me to get to work posting about the election omnibus bill that passed the House yesterday, HB 1968 as amended. It's a long bill with about a dozen small but significant improvements to democracy in Illinois. None of them are, to my eyes, objectionable, and none of them are Democratic Party power plays. Dissenting opinions are welcome, but here's my take.

The bill is very similar to the omnibus bill that the House passed in 2004, but was not called in the Senate, as it was caught up in the breakdown between Speaker Madigan and President Jones that led to the overtime session. Here, since the Senate sponsor (Terry Link) amended a House shell first and sent it back over for the House to concur, the bill passed without any problem, signaling a closer relationship between the two chambers and foreshadowing, perhaps, the spirit of cooperation between the Speaker and the President.

A few of the best provisions of the bill include:

*early voting by personal appearance from 22 to 5 days before an election, where anyone can show up to the election administrator's office and cast their ballot early. This will likely raise turnout. It will also create what an Arizona legislator (where they use early voting) calls a double feld campaign -- the first campaign is to get the early voters out, and the second campaign is the traditional election day operation. I think this is a good thing, as it makes for likely shorter lines on presidential election days, and it gives people a chance to cast a ballot without walking through the gauntlet of bored campaign workers pushing slips of paper on to them from 100 feet away from the polling place.

*better disclosure for anyone who spends money on campaigns, to avoid the non-disclosure from both the trial lawyers and the chamber on the Supreme Court race this last go-round.

*perhaps the best anti-fraud provisions in the nation related to computerized voting. I think there is a real risk of stolen or distorted election results from electronic voting equipment (google 'Ohio exit poll 2004' for some details on unanswered questions), and the new state law (assuming Governor Blagojevich signs the bill) that requires a third party to test the equipment vendor's computer code submitted to the State Board of Elections, as well as reinforcing the need for a voter-verified paper trail for all new equipment, will make it more difficult for a nefarious operative with one of the privately-held vendors to manipulate the results of an election. Other states and Congress should look at these provisions of the bill as models for ensuring a secure election, relative to voting equipment.

*the Internet voters guide for statewide candidates is a long overdue move, originally pushed by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and a task force led by Jesse White and Judy Baar Topinka. Ira Silverstein and Dave Sullivan, among others, have been methodically pushing for the proposal for years, and they deserve credit and thanks. The legislation does not require a voters guide for the primary election, leaving it to the Board's discretion, but I certainly hope the Board decides to exercise their discretion and set up a guide for the March 2006 election.

*deputy registrars can register anyone to vote, and not just people who live in their election jurisdiction. It is kind of dumb to have 110 separate election jurisdictions in the state, especially when it creates a barrier to getting people registered. I understand the Lake County Clerk didn't like this provision (triple hearsay, so that might not be correct), but the provision is a good one.

There might be a touch of irony that a bill that increases transparency in government was put together in a relatively non-transparent way and delivered to the General Assembly in the last 10 days of session, but that's a minor quibble as most of the provisions were debated or even passed separately over the last few years. The College Voter Registration Act in HB 715, for example, is also included in this bill too, and the Internet voters guide had already been passed out of the Senate this session separately.

One bad provision is an increase in the number of signatures from 300 to 500 and 600 to 1000 for nominating petitions for the House and Senate, respectively. Ballot access should get easier, not harder, as we have too few candidates on the ballot, not too many. And there isn't any move to make it easier for third party candidates or independents to get on the ballot in this bill, which is another long overdue move.

All told, though, it is appropriate that Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie pushed this bill, as it is largely a good-government, democracy-enhancing move.

Interesting, isn't it, that the Dems aren't getting much credit for the good-government aspects of the bill, and that the press on it is largely "Dems muscle through a bill that Republicans say will create voter fraud." I think the vote fraud argument is largely a red herring. Organizations commit voter fraud, not individuals, and expanding opportunities for individuals to vote usually doesn't increase opportunities for fraud to occur. It's not like this is a real power play, like a congressional remap to get an 11-8 DC delegation. It's a lot closer to a 'do the right thing' bill -- and I'll bet there won't be a single editorial congratulating the Dems on expanding the franchise or rebuking Republicans for opposing the move. I wonder if that's a message problem for the Dems.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

State GOP pulls a Nancy Reagan: they just say no

And it is hard to blame them. Illinois Republicans are the mirror image of federal Democrats: they are the absolute minority party and have no tactical gain from supporting difficult governing decisions. Pension reform, defined as trimming very expensive future benefits, doesn't earn many votes but does alienate public sector employees who understand the power of walking a precinct. So the Republicans are making a play for public sector union support, really trying to woo the teachers, by simply opposing any pension cuts. So that leaves responsible government fewer options (defining responsible as trimming those benefits again). It's a smart tactic by the GOP - just as smart as the federal Dems refusing to support any reform of Social Security.

Unfortunately, it means we can't bond the pension gap at 5 percent and instead pay 8.5 percent in interest foregone.

Friday, May 27, 2005

You can pay me now or you can pay me later

I have a bet with Louis, one of the doormen of the House. He maintains the legislature will adjourn on time. I put ten bucks down to say we are going into overtime. And everytime I see him, he intones the same mantra: you can pay me now or you can pay me later.

Looks like I'm paying up, because the leaders apparently have convinced the governor to agree to skip out on two billion plus of pension payments for the next two years to plug the deficit.

Given that most observers think the pensions are too expensive to begin with, maybe starving the beast is as close to trimming benefits as one can get.

But it sure would be nice if Republicans would agree to float some bonds at 5 percent to cover the 2 billion instead of the de facto 8 percent loan in interest not earned that we are borrowing from the pensions. Unless, of course, we pull a United and just never fully cover the cost of the pensions.

There are no good options. Maybe this is the least worst. I definitely want to finance the future, not the past, and spending our dollars on schools, health care and infrastruture instead of pensions fits that bill.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Legislature takes first step on structural fix for transit

HB 1663, the first step in the needed structural funding fix for transit, just passed the House with more than 90 votes. Kathy Ryg and Julie Hamos especially worked on building a consensus to move paratransit, which is essentially rides for the disabled and elderly beyond the regular routes, entirely to Pace. Pace is better at it than the CTA, and hopefully Pace can figure out how to get a Medicaid match. Paratransit, which is a 50 or 60 million annual cost, is a new cost over the last two decades which is one reason why transit agencies are broke. The lack of federal money for transit is a bigger reason, so while we can find federal money to fund the BTA (the Baghdad Transit Authority), we should find federal money for the CTA as well. Good step today.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Durbin withholds very early endorsement of Blagojevich

From Rich Miller's CapFax blog here --

Durbin decides not to endorse Governor Blagojevich six months before the filing deadline for the primary election.

And I say, good for him.

Not that I'm an anti-Blagojevich guy. But I think endorsements are crucial. They are, in many ways, one of the most important actions of an elected official. They should not be given lightly.

I kept a record of the 2004 Senate primary endorsements here, and I'm planning to keep one for all the constitutionals. Looks like the Republican endorsements will be more interested than the Democratic endorsements, as it's shaping up to be a status quo primary, but you never know.

And it does raise a question: are Illinois Democrats in 2005 like California Democrats in 2003, looking at a governor with nagging ethical questions stemming from big-time contributions and perceived favorable treatment chipping away at his poll numbers and faced with the tough question of dumping the nominee to keep a Dem in the mansion or sticking with the incumbent come hell or high water? The Democratic Governor then was Gray Davis. And we know what happened to him.

Fight terrorism -- buy your gas at CITGO

Jeff Cohen (former Donahue producer, among lots of other stints, as I recall) makes a compelling pitch to buy gasoline at CITGO, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company. Hugo Chavez was elected on an end poverty platform, and despite some Bush Administration tolerated coup attempts, is still investing the nation's oil wealth back into the people who need it most.

He certainly isn't perfect (who is?), but Venezuela seems like a better place to get oil profits than Saudi Arabia, which continues to fund Al Queda and has some disturbing ties to the Texas oil men that back Bush.

His short piece is here and some of the best parts of it will follow:

Of the top oil producing countries in the world, only one is a democracy with a president who was elected on a platform of using his nation's oil revenue to benefit the poor. The country is Venezuela. The President is Hugo Chavez. Call him "the Anti-Bush."

Citgo is a U.S. refining and marketing firm that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. Money you pay to Citgo goes primarily to Venezuela -- not Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. There are 14,000 Citgo gas stations in the US. (Click here to find one near you.) By buying your gasoline at Citgo, you are contributing to the billions of dollars that Venezuela's democratic government is using to provide health care, literacy and education, and subsidized food for the majority of Venezuelans.

Instead of using government to help the rich and the corporate, as Bush does, Chavez is using the resources and oil revenue of his government to help the poor in Venezuela. A country with so much oil wealth shouldn't have 60 percent of its people living in poverty, earning less than $2 per day. With a mass movement behind him, Chavez is confronting poverty in Venezuela. That's why large majorities have consistently backed him in democratic elections. And why the Bush administration supported an attempted military coup in 2002 that sought to overthrow Chavez.


One more thing from DJW -- it's amazing to think about Brazil. Was it less than 30 years ago that Brazil was a military dictatorship and today is governed by Lula and the Working People's Party, perhaps the most progressive government of any major southern hemisphere nation?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Payday loan reform passes -- that's a big bill

There have been complaints that 2005 is not nearly as important a year for progressive initiatives in Illinois as 2003 was.

Representative David Miller's work (I saw him talking up this issue a year ago at a conference in D.C.) with lots and lots of others to move HB 1100 through both chambers is a big bill that is a progressive victory.

The bill is here. For background on the issue, check out the CapFax blog and click on the ad.

Some big picture numbers I've heard. Payday lending, which is the practice of a corporation accepting a bad check from a paycheck-to-paycheck guy and charging ridiculously high interest rates, plus processing fees, to suck the financial vitality out of those working people to enrich usurious corporations, often out-of-state-owned, is about a $1.5 billion industry in Illinois. It's basically unregulated.

So think of that billion five getting sucked out of the pockets of working people in Illinois, and a lot of it going to the big banks. Perpetuating poverty. Corporate loan sharking. All that.

Assuming the House concurs with the Senate amendments to HB 1100, and there's no reason to think that they won't work it out, this rapacious industry will have some real limites placed on it. It will probably cost them, and save working people, in the neighborhood of $300 million every year. Maybe more.

That's real wealth generation for the state.

This is a very good thing, and is the sort of thing that should inspire more people to engage with state government and politics.

Especially when the news is filled with leaked British memos showing the Bush Administration planned to invade Iraq months before 9/11, and then used the tragedy to lie to the electorate in order to take advantage of the opportunity to kick ass in a foreign land (see The Downing Street Memo for some more on this, and don't see the American corporate media for any of it), this victory is some good news. Politics is good!

Boland for Treasurer starting to pick up some attention

Representative Mike Boland, a progressive Democrat in a 52% Bush district, is apparently thinking of running for Treasurer if Judy Baar Topinka vacates the office. This, according to a Russ Stewart column here.

Boland is cut from a similar cloth as Pat Quinn, with his background in the Citizens Utility Board. I'm a big Boland fan, especially because of his enthusiasm for opening up our election system. If he runs, I'm in his corner.

But I'm getting to be such a wuss! I hate the thought of risking it all to run for a bigger office. I guess I don't have the testicular virility to fully support good House members running for a different race. (Yeah, I'm a few days late, but it's still funny).

Speaking of testicular virility jokes, during floor debate today, Representative Bob Molaro was questioning Representative Marlow Colvin about the purpose of his bill, and grew increasingly exasperated, but wanted to assure Colvin that he wasn't trying to be difficult. He said "Look, I'm not just trying to bust your -- ahh, well, what's the word? Your testicular virility. OK? But what's the point of the bill?"

It was funny.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

On HB 750 / 755

Real progress on solving one of our state's fundamental problems - underinvestment in poor children because of local taxation for schools - is a good thing. The Trib's analysis made it clear that the bill is a tax hike, not a tax swap, for just about everyone. That isn't enough to bury the bill, if taxpayers can believe the money will actually improve education and not simply disappear down Pate's proverbial rathole. The perception of bloated bureaucracies is powerful and in many cases accurate. That efficiency/accountability piece is what is missing from the 750/755 legislation. If education is going to get more money, then the education establishment should give something up. Perhaps an end to seniority-based contracts. Perhaps a cap an administrative salaries. Perhaps a type of farebox recovery ratio where at least 65 percent of all funds must be spent in the classroom. Something. Or else we are not arming legislators to defend themselves against angry swing voters with a reassuring retort. Finally, I don't recall Speaker Madigan publicly refusing to support the bill. He just hasn't endorsed it. That's a big difference and senators shouldn't hold back because of a prediction on how the bill will fare in the House. That's why we have two chambers. Speaking of predictions, I am guessing that we won't be budgeted by May. Overtime is coming (despite a persistent undercurrent of optimism among legislators).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Miller hits the big time

I'm at the Capitol Capers show in Springfield where about half of the legislators are in a musical review. Funny show. They just did a song about Rich Miller to the tune of Heard it Through the Grapevine with the lyrics Read it on the fax line. Congrats Rich.

College Voter Registration Act passed the Senate and is on to the Governor

Congratulations to Senator Jeff Schoenberg for sheperding HB 715 through the Senate with 32 or 33 yes votes. In the face of what I consider unreasonable opposition from Senator Wendell Jones, Schoenberg kept the debate focused on registration opportunities and aptly compared the bill to motor voter which took years too long to pass Pate's Senate. A group that I work with, the Midwest Democracy Center did a report here by Debra Kosek on the lack of any solid voter registration efforts on the websites at most colleges and universities in Illinois. This bill will fix that particular problem and will result in more people voting.

Nice election reform bill up this week on an internet voters guide

Senate Bill 187 (Senator Ira Silverstein - Representative Sara Feigenholtz) is here and it is up in the House Elections and Campaign Reform Committee Wednesday at 11 am. See the committee schedule here if you don't believe me.

This would set up an internet voters guide for statewide offices on the State Board of Elections website.

This is long overdue. Unfortunately, the sponsors apparently had to strip out the provisions to authorize a printed voters guide, which at least a dozen states issue but not Illinois. But this is a good bill and I certainly hope it passes.

If you'd like to call your representative this week for a democracy-enhancing bill, SB 187 is a good one. It might not "rock the system" but it will teach some citizens about the candidates on the ballot, and that's a good thing. An educated electorate is a good thing.

I'm not sure why the bill only earned 31 votes in the Senate. Here is the roll call. Some usual Republican supporters of transparent government, like Rauschenberger, Lauzen, Winkel and Dillard voted no. The Democrats who voted no on this include Jacobs and Munoz which is not a good sign, especially as there isn't a compelling reason to vote against the bill besides a nagging sense that voters are already getting too much information. The Republicans who voted yes along with every other Democratic senator to save the bill are Dave Sullivan and Christine Radogno. They deserve some thanks.

I wonder which Republican state senators, based on their complete voting record, are the most reasonable, defined as willing to vote with the Democrats on a good government bills like this. It's hard to separate out partisan loyalty from the roll call, but that's the expectation of some Republican senators. And similarly, I wonder which Democratic senators are the most 'at risk' to peel away from the caucus position and kill a bill on good government bills like this. Comments, guesses, speculation or actual data is welcome.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Less than $2 billion for Amtrak. But more than $9 billion for United's pensions

This is madness.

Our governments starve passenger rail into the second-class, pokey Amtrak system. Why? Because it's a failed 'socialist' experiment. Governments can't run services efficiently, say the Bush Administration. So we spend less than $2 billion on Amtrak every year.

But United Airlines, a private company, decides to unload their pensions onto the government, and we taxpayers pick up the cost. Of NINE BILLION DOLLARS. Here's an article citing the government's estimate of the loss.

For a private company. Hey, at least it's not socialist! Who cares how much government money we throw at a company -- as long as it is privately held, it's efficient!

(Full disclosure. . .I'm following this stuff because one of my clients is the Midwest High Speed Rail Association that you can join here if you want.)

White House evacuated; Commander-in-Chief is MIA. That's Bush leadership

A plane is headed towards the White House. The U.S. Capitol is evacuated. Speaker Hastert is rushed to a secure location. The White House is evacuated. Laura Bush is taken away. It's a red alert.

And George W. is riding his mountain bike.

This plane might need to be shot down. It's within three miles of the White House -- how many minutes until it hits the White House from three miles away? Two? Three? Five?

And George W. is riding his mountain bike.

This could be the second Al Queda attack on D.C. with the worst results possible. These are the moments that test leadership.

And George W. is riding his mountain bike.

No one thought to call the President of the United States.

That's our leadership in Washington. An MIA President.

Here's an excerpt from one of the few times our corporate media reporters took on the White House with hard questions about this appalling lack of leadership from the White House. It's from Editor and Publisher, through Yahoo News.

If you feel safe with President Bush in office, you should tell me how. Because days like this when the President rides his mountain bike while a plane barrels towards the White House make me very nervous about trusting Republicans with national security.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Movement on a 5% income tax with more money for education

Congratulations to Senators James Meeks, Rick Winkel, Miguel Del Valle, Kim Lightford, Kwame Raoul, Maggie Crotty and all the other advocates of decent schools for poor children in Illinois for coming to consensus on a 5% state income tax with the revenue allocated to higher education, elementary and secondary education and local property tax relief.

The new vehicle is HB 755, perhaps as close to the 750 brand as they could get.

The bill status is here and the text of the amendment is here (it's long).

There's a good article in the State Journal Register here.

Basically, this is a 2005 version of the swap. The details are still a little murky (I haven't read it all yet), but it's great news and a big sign of progress.

Who says the House is always more progressive than the Senate. . . .?

When you're right on the substance but wrong on the politics, you're Rod Blagojevich on campaign finance reform

SBC and Harrah's Casino and People's Gas and Walgreen's should not be allowed to give corporate money to political campaigns.

No one should be allowed to give $10,000 to a political candidate.

That distorts democracy.

Governor Blagojevich's press release listed a lot of fundamental, significant reforms that would make Illinois government cleaner and better.

And reformers took the press release and (in this fantastically symbolic move by Representative John Fritchey) crumpled it up. And spit on it. And scoffed. And burned it. And slowly shook their heads in disgust at such a cynical, transparently-PR move.

Governor Blagojevich, in his press release, lists a lot of good people supporting the reforms, including Pat Quinn, Abner Mikva, Cindi Canary and Hugo Rojas. Senator Ronen and Representative Phelps have been tasked to carry the as-yes-unwritten bills.

So who is right?

Most observers think the governor's earnest call for cleaner politics is an empty ploy. It's certainly not a serious consensus-building exercise to pass far-reaching legislation, and all the earnest words in the world don't excuse the lack of any real effort to engage with legislators on implementing reforms.

But on the other hand, lots of big reforms start with something less than the best of intentions. There is real progress made in that the Governor of Illinois has called for significant campaign finance reform. That's a good thing.

And although the press release -- not the bill, because there isn't one -- deserves the scorn from legislators it received (who, after all, are looking for legislation), it's still a damn good press release.

The funniest thing on John Bolton.. . by Larry David

Arianna Huffington has a blog calling HuffingtonPost (John Cusack has a post on Hunter Thompson's funeral. . .what a cool guy. It's here), and the funniest thing written on John Bolton is here by Larry David.

It's called "Why I Support John Bolton" and it starts off like this:


I know this may not sound politically correct, but as someone who has abused and tormented employees and underlings for years, I am dismayed by all of this yammering directed at John Bolton. Let's face it, the people who are screaming the loudest at Bolton have never been a boss and have no idea what it’s like to deal with nitwits as dumb as themselves all day long. Why, even this morning my moronic assistant handed me a cup of coffee with way too much milk in it. I was incensed.

"You stupid ignoramus," I screamed, doing all I could to restrain myself from tossing the luke-warm liquid in her face. “There's too much freaking (I didn’t say freaking) milk in here! What the freak is wrong with you?!”

Monday, May 09, 2005

Some grumbling about using the Dem majority in Illinois

I've detected an uptick in the undercurrent of unhappiness by legislators about the lack of a bold Democratic agenda in 2005 for the Illinois General Assembly.

In 2003, there were some big bills. A rise in the minimum wage. A huge upswing in FamilyCare (making us one of the best states in the Union). Civil rights for homosexuals. Ethics reform. The state's first housing policy. Polluter pays for water dumpers. Covering birth control for all insurance.

What's the big bill in 2005? Medical malpractice? Mass transit. . . kind of. Finally giving kids from poor areas a decent education? Nope.

Republicans in D.C. don't act this way. They use their political capital.

Some legislators are grumbling that the agenda is getting more cautious and less visionary. And that's not why they took the job.

That's probably the role of the movement -- to push the party to get bigger, get bolder and help deliver a higher standard of living for people.

What should we do? More and better teachers, from K through college. Renewable energy everywhere to get energy jobs in Illinois, not Houston or Saudi Arabia. Force the coal power plants to install state-of-the-art pollution control equipment so they can burn Illinois coal and help bring back Southern Illinois from the brink. (Why Southern Illinois electeds oppose the most stringent clean air requirements in Illinois plants is beyond me. With the best equipment, the plants can burn high-sulfur Illinois coal. Am I missing something?) Change economic development from tax credits for corporations to buying health insurance for employees. Tax relief for people making less than 40 grand. Tax the wealthy more because they can afford it -- and because those taxes are subsidized by the feds. Build another college. Expand the number of students at our existing colleges by 10% -- at least. Get the extra students from overseas if we have to. Let the non-violent drug offenders out of prison and use the money for financial aid for colleges. Quit locking people up for drug possession in the first place. Move from an institution-based system of care for the disabled and the old to a community-based system which is cheaper and better.

Big ideas are exciting. We need more of them.

Eli Pariser (the MoveOn dude) on the movement, the party and Risk

I knew there was a reason I liked participating in MoveOn so much. They had the best call-from-home program online. They are relentlessly egalitarian. And their Director's got a good interview in Salon today.

It's here.

My favorite parts:

I do draw a distinction between a movement and a party. One of the books I've been reading recently, which I found really interesting, is Richard Viguerie's book "America's Right Turn." If you simply substitute "progressive" for "conservative," it offers a pretty good road map of how to think about these issues. His basic point is that the job of a party is to get elected and the job of a movement is to promote ideas and an ideology. And unless the movement kind of understands that that's its role -- and not getting elected -- and unless the party understands what its relationship is to the movement, you kind of end up with a muddle. Which is not to say that it may not be strategic sometimes for the movement to back candidates who are not precisely in line with its ideology.

At MoveOn, we're the outsiders. We're definitely on the movement side of the equation. We don't want to be the party. We want to be the people on the outside keeping the party accountable to its best self.

----------and then------------------

Do you see MoveOn's role to be one of reaching out to people in the middle who may be coming to terms with these issues now as opposed to rallying, and collecting money from, the base?

I don't know if you've ever played the board game Risk. With Risk, the way you win is to build out from your base. You get a heck of a lot of armies on Australia, or whatever it is, and then you reach out. And if you spread yourself too thin, you kind of implode from all sides because there's no center of gravity. At some point, absolutely, you reach out, but progressives are too quick to skip over the first step. There are a hell of a lot of people who are low-hanging fruit -- who agree with us, who are ready to work on behalf of these issues if they're given an effective way to do so.


The best evidence that 'Democrats with backbone' works well is on Social Security, so far.

No Democrats broke under the pressure to come up with a compromise plan. And this Wall Street giveaway is looking less likely to fly than it did in January.

And he's right that we need to beef up our base. More of us need to get engaged with the Democratic Party. It's not perfect, but nothing is.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Time for state senate to put bikes on Metra

Metra has stubbornly refused to allow bikes on the trqin during non-rush hour trips. Fed up, the state House passed a bill unanimously to require bikes on Metra. Representative Marlow Colvin introduced HB 467 but after it passed in February, Metra announced they would relent and the momentum for the bill fizzled. However, Metra never actually changed its policy and today with the weather warming up it Is still not permitted to put a bike on the train. The state Senate ought to pass the bill and not rely on Metra changing its policy on its own.

Friday, May 06, 2005

What percentage of the national vote do you think the Labor Party earned yesterday?

They won a majority of seats -- somewhere around 57% of all seats in the House of Commons.

So take a guess.




Yeah. Not so much.

About 37% of the vote.

The Conservative Party won 33%.

And the Liberal Democratic Party won 22%.

That's according to an exit poll in this article.

The reason why things get so ridiculously distorted between the share of the vote earned and the share of the seats won is that the United Kingdom does not use proportional representation.

Instead, they use the system that we've inherited -- electing one legislator from a district who faces the impossible task of representing people who voted against her.

The Labor Party is enjoying a manufactured majority in the House of Commons. And that's not right.

Hopefully the next election in the UK will use proportional representation -- Irish-style voting. Check out to see what they (and we) should do.

1/3 of Illinois prisoners are non-violent drug possession cases?

If this is true, this is ridiculous and a very low-hanging fruit for saving money.

(Thanks to Rich Miller and particularly the poster Yellow Dog Democrat, for posting this tidbit here in the fifth comment. I'll just copy his post)


As I've pointed out elsewhere, roughly 13,000 of the inmates currently in Illinois prisons are serving time for non-violent, Class 4 felony drug possession. Not drug dealing, drug possession.

Is this a good use of taxpayer dollars, at a time when the waiting line for getting into a drug treatment program on the outside is six months? I don't think so.


If the poster is correct, we are wasting a ton of money. I understand the cost per inmate is in the neighborhood of $20,000 annually (plus or minus 5 grand). So, some quick math., 13,000 inmates times $20,000 each is $260 million.

Let's say we can put them into drug rehab for half that. That's $130 million annual savings. That sure helps close the structural deficit.

That would be a great bill to work on. I wonder who would lobby for that?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The best cartoon on the corporate media. . . ever.

I saw this on Saturday Night Live a few years ago. It's a Robert Smiegel cartoon that actually aired. Once. Then General Electric made sure in the rerun of the episode not to air it.

Here's the cartoon. Check it out. Very funny.

Why can't we have federal-style civil service for the city, county and state?

Nobody ever mentions clout or patronage for the feds. Nobody ever gets indicted for political hiring or political work on public time in the federal bureaucracy. And they used to. President Jackson mastered the practice. Postmaster Generals used to be plum patronage positions from big time operatives. I'll bet not a single one of the political types reading this blog can name any Postmaster General in the country. I sure can't. So, it's possible to turn patronage dumps into merit-based civil service. And it's long overdue.

UPDATE AND GRIPE: Thanks to the Austin Mayor for pointing out my post was truncuated. The Treo 600 is doing that to my emails as well. I'm slightly less happy with Sprint. If anyone knows how to fix that bug, suggestions would be welcome.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

CMS apologies for their agressive, defensive tone

During the Appropriations 2 committee hearing right now, the Director of CMS has apologized for the tone they have taken in creating an antagonistic relationship with the Auditor General. It seemed to take the tension out of the room. A big mea culpa from CMS to the committee and it seemed like the right thing to do.

Are we overplaying the service-based economy?

There's a great article in this month's American Prospect about Japan. Japan, not China, is the real threat to the US, because they are dominating high-tech, intelligent manufacturing (and their economy is essentially closed to imports). People talk about the end of American manufacturing with a degree of inevitability, because labor is so cheap overseas. And for uneducated, unskilled, simple labor, that's true. But making cell phones and lens and fuel cells and hybrid engines takes very educated workers that are paid very well. Japan is apparently doing a much better job in the high-value manufacturing sector than we are. Every camera on the market is Japanese. And so many components of Boeing's planes are manufactured in Japan that we shouldn't think of it as an American plane. To catch up and create more high wage jobs, we do not need to keep taxes low on wealth. We need to invest in education, particularly higher education. That is one thing Governor Blagojevich understands. His campaign kickoff and victory party were in the high-end steel mill west of Lincoln Park: Finkl and Sons. So let's not try to compete with Chinese manufacturing with ever-lower wages. Let's compete with Japan for ever-higher quality and wages to match.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bike bill lost

Just to make it clear, the bike bill lost. I suspect they will try again next week.

The bike bill is up in the Senate's Local Government Committee now

HB 2390, the bike bill that barely passed the House a few weeks ago, is up in the Senate committee now. Senator John Cullerton is the chief sponsor and praised Elaine Nekritz for a great job getting the bill out and mentioned that they have been working on this for 6 years. Randy Neufeld of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation testified that the bill is about fixing a problem that the Supreme Court created with a 98 decision striking bicyclists from the list of intended users of roadways. Cullerton said that because of the decision Illinois is the worst state for bicycle policy and the bill will fix the problem. The city's deputy counsel testified that this is a big liability increase for municipalities. So the question is whether the bill is about fixing a disincentive to set up bicycling or whether it is a trial lawyer's dream that creates unlimited liability for bicyclists hurt on local government roads. Cullerton asked for and received a rebuttal after the city's testimony. Neufeld argued that we are simply going back to the pre-1998 status where there was no litigation explosion with a reasonable duty of care extended to bicyclists. Then Senator Cullerton mentioned he votes with the City of Chicago every time they are right - including this time. Senator Maloney is an avid cyclist and he is voting yes. Senator Sandoval says he finds it ironic that our Mayor, a bike aficiando, can oppose the bill. Rosenthal (the city's lawyer) said that he thinks the bill has nothing to do with bikes. Cullerton said the trial lawyers have been against the bill. And there weren't many lawsuits against local governments before 1998 so the bill wouldn't trigger new lawsuits. Neufeld said that the current law is cutting back on bike lanes and safety signs because any municipalities that do this expose themselves to a higher standard of liability. This is a showdown. Lots of suits here. Republicans vote no. Wilhelmi is a no. That's a problem for the bikes. DeLeo is a no. Sandoval is a no. Maloney, Link and Crotty are the yes votes.